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Although Renaissance architecture assumes very different forms among different nations, it may be conveniently referred to three heads:—Early Renaissance, consisting of the first corruptions introduced into the Gothic schools: Central or Roman Renaissance, which is the perfectly formed style; and Grotesque Renaissance, which is the corruption of the Renaissance itself. Now, in order to do full justice to the adverse cause, we will consider the abstract nature of the school with reference only to its best or central examples. The forms of building which must be classed generally under the term early Renaissance are, in many cases, only the extravagances and corruptions of the languid Gothic, for whose errors the classical principle is in no wise answerable. It was stated in the “Seven Lamps,” that unless luxury had enervated and subtlety falsified the Gothic forms, Roman traditions could not have prevailed against them; and, although these enervated and false conditions are almost instantly colored by the classical influence, it would be utterly unfair to lay to the charge of that influence the first debasement of the earlier schools, which had lost the strength of their system before they could be struck by the plague. / The manner, however, of the debasement of all schools of \ art, so far as it is natural, is in all ages the same; luxuriance of ornament, refinement of execution, and idle subtleties of \ fancy, taking the place of true thought and firm handling; and I do not intend to delay the reader long by the Gothic sickbed, for our task is not so much to watch the wasting of fever in the features of the expiring King, as to trace the character of that Hazael who dipped the cloth in water, and laid it upon his face. Nevertheless, it is necessary to the completeness of our view of the architecture of Venice, as well as to our under
standing of the manner in which the Central Renaissance obtained its universal dominion, that we glance briefly at the principal forms into which Venetian Gothic first declined. They are two in number: one the corruption of the Gothic itself; the other a partial return to Byzantine forms: for the Venetian mind having carried the Gothic to a point at which it was dissatisfied, tried to retrace its steps, fell back first upon Byzantine types, and through them passed to the first Roman. But in thus retracing its steps, it does not recover its own lost energy. It revisits the places through which it had passed in the morning light, but it is now with wearied limbs, and under the gloomy shadow of the evening.
Against this degraded Gothic, then, came up the Renaissance armies; and their first assault was in the requirement of universal perfection. For the first time since the destruction of Rome, the world had seen, in the work of the greatest artists of the fifteenth century, in the painting of Ghirlandajo, Masaccio, Francia, Perugino, Pinturicchio, and Bellini; in the sculpture of Mino da Fiesole, of Ghiberti, and Verrocchio, a perfection of execution and fulness of knowledge which cast all previous art into the shade, and which, being in the work of those men united with all that was great in that of former days, did indeed justify the utmost enthusiasm with which their efforts were, or could be, regarded. But when this perfection had once been exhibited in anything, it was required in everything; the world could no longer be satisfied with less exquisite execution, or less disciplined knowledge. The first thing that it demanded in all work was, that it should be done in a consummate and learned way; and men altogether forgot that it was possible to consummate what was contemptible, and to know what was useless. Imperatively requiring dexterity of touch, they gradually forgot to look for tenderness of feeling;
imperatively requiring accuracy of knowledge, they gradually forgot to ask for originality of thought. The thought and the feeling which they despised departed from them, and they were left to felicitate themselves on their small science and their neat /fingering. This is the history of the first attack of the Renaissance upon the Gothic schools, and of its rapid results; more o and immediate in architecture than in any other art, because there the demand for perfection was less reasonable, and less consistent with the capabilities of the workman; being utterly opposed to that rudeness or savageness on which, as we saw above, the nobility of the elder schools in great part depends. But, inasmuch as the innovations were founded on some of the most beautiful examples of art, and headed by some of the greatest men that the world ever saw, and as the Gothic with which they interfered was corrupt and valueless, the first appearance of the Renaissance feeling had the appearance of a healthy movement. A new energy replaced whatever weariness or dulness had affected the Gothic mind; an exquisite taste and refinement, aided by extended knowledge, furnished the first models of the new school; and over the whole of Italy a style arose, generally known as cinque-cento, which in sculpture and painting, as I just stated, produced the noblest masters whom the world ever saw, headed by Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Leonardo; but which failed in doing the same in architecture, because, as we have seen above, perfection is therein not possible, and failed more totally than it would otherwise have done, because the classical enthusiasm had destroyed the best types of architectural form.
The effect, then, of the sudden enthusiasm for classical literature, which gained strength during every hour of the fifteenth century, was, as far as respected architecture, to do away with the entire system of Gothic science. The pointed arch, the shadowy vault, the clustered shaft, the heaven-pointing spire, were all swept away; and no structure was any longer permitted but that of the plain cross-beam from pillal to pillar, over the round arch with square or circular shafts, and a low gabled roof and pediment; two elements of noble form, which had fortunately existed in Rome, were, however, for that reason, still permitted; the cupola, and, internally, the waggon vault.
Do not let me be misunderstood when I speak generally of the evil spirit of the Renaissance. The reader may look through all I have written, from first to last, and he will not find one word but the most profound reverence for those mighty men who could wear the Renaissance armor of proof, and yet not feel it encumber their living limbs,-Leonardo and Michael Angelo, Ghirlandajo and Masaccio, Titian and Tintoret. But I speak of the Renaissance as an evil time, because, when it saw those men go burning forth into the battle, it mistook their armor for their strength; and forthwith encumbered with the painful panoply every stripling who ought to have gone forth only with his own choice of three small stones out of the brook.
Over the greater part of the surface of the world, we find that a rock has been providentially distributed, in a manner particularly pointing it out as intended for the service of man. Notaltogether a common rock, it is yet rare enough to command a certain degree of interest and attention wherever it is found; but not so rare as to preclude its use for any purpose to which it is fitted. It is exactly of the consistence which is best adapted for sculpture; that is to say, neither hard nor brittle, nor flaky nor splintery, but uniform, and delicately, yet not ignobly soft—exactly soft enough to allow the sculptor to work it without force, and trace on it the finest lines of finished forms; and yet so hard as never to betray the touch or moulder away beneath the steel; and so admirably crystallized, and of such permanent elements, that no rains dissolve it, no time changes it, no atmosphere decomposes it; once shaped, it is shaped for ever, unless subjected to actual violence or attrition. This rock, then, is prepared by Nature for the sculptor and architect, just as paper is prepared by the manufacturer for the artist, with as great—nay, with greater— care, and more perfect adaptation of the material to the requirements. And of this marble paper, some is white and some colored; but more is colored than white, because the white is evidently meant for sculpture, and the colored for the covering of large surfaces. Now if we would take Nature at her word, and use this precious paper which she has taken so much care to provide for us (it is a long process, the making of that paper; the pulp of it needed the subtlest possible solution, and the pressing of it—for it is all hot pressed—having to be done under the sea, or under something at least as heavy); if I say, we use it as Nature would have us, consider what advantages would follow. The colors of marble are mingled for us just as if on a prepared palette. They are of all shades and hues (except bad ones), some being united and even, some broken, mixed, and interrupted, in order to supply, as far as possible, the want of the painter's power of breaking and mingling the color with the brush. But there is more in the colors than this delicacy of adaptation. There is history in them. By the manner in which they are arranged in every piece of marble, they record the means by which that marble has been produced, and the successive changes through which it has passed. And in all their veins and zones, and flame-like stainings, or broken and